Oct 172018
 
ben patton

Singer-songwriter-composer Ben Patton crams a lot into the 32 minutes of new album Meaning What. After starting with the vocal doo-wop of “Maybe I Live to Make You Happy,” it quickly careens into garage-rock, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, showtunes, and beyond. Throughout the frequent genre swerves, though, one apparent inspiration kept jumping out at me: The Beatles.

It’s clichéd to note that the Beatles’ music influenced pretty much every popular music act of the past 60 years. That may well be true in a broad sense – what they did has seeped into every genre – but little current music actually sounds all that much like the Beatles. Meaning What does, though and from all the band’s phases too. On different songs, Patton channels the Broadway covers of their first albums (“New Love New Love”), the increased studio experimentations of Sgt. Pepper’s (“For All I Know”), the White Album’s crunchy drug puns (“Do the Math”), even the ambitious Abbey Road medley (“The Jebidiah Mustache Suite”). Continue reading »

Oct 012018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

A Box of Stars – Cornfields


Never before have I Googled a mixing engineer’s name, but Josh Druckman’s work feels as vital to building such a pristine, delicate beauty of a record as the actual musicians (who, for the record, are Macaulay Lerman on guitar and vocals; Claire Londagin on vocals; Jens Hybertson on violin; Eben Schumacher on bass, piano, and guitar; and Tim Halteman on drums). Take “Cornfields.” Enigmatic lyrics swirl around minimalist instrumentation, subtle percussion delicately balancing with windy violin. It’s not flashy music, and folky slowcore of this sort often lands in the background-music category. But the band’s just-so playing, presented perfectly, demands attention. Continue reading »

Sep 242018
 

bow thayer alex abraham

A Better Version of the Truth was the toughest record I have ever made,” Bow Thayer writes on Bandcamp – and that’s saying something from a man who once battled an ice storm with Levon Helm to record.

But that can’t be compared with the tragedy Thayer encountered during the three-year journey towards his latest album. First, his drummer suffered multiple strokes, rendering him unable to play during two years of physical therapy. Sadder still: This past March, his bassist Alex Abraham took his own life at just 28 years old. (Read his obituary at the Vermont Standard, which includes details about how to donate to the Alex Abraham Musical Excellence Scholarship at Woodstock High School).

Thayer writes about the tragedy quite movingly in the album’s liner notes. My paraphrase won’t do his words justice, so I’ll quote that part in full: Continue reading »

Sep 012018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best new songs august

Abby Sherman – Wanting to Run


Great little details abound in the final song off Abby Sherman’s debut album: “The callused fingers fumble over the strings. / Do you only find me beautiful when I sing? / In a dark bar where the lights are kept low. / Nothing better to do and no where better to go.”

Baby Brush – Dinos


I feel I wasted a good Frank Zappa comparison in last month’s list. Vermont expats Baby Brush – Christopher Davis, Peter Housekeeper, Theodore Housekeeper, and Ryan Kochalka (James‘ nephew) – sounds far closer to Zappa than anything I’ve encountered so far, twisting and warping just about every genre in popular music on their debut album. Opening track “A Tribute to Foot” turns doo-wop on its head, with the only lyrics being “foot foot.” Then “Dinos” alternates wild guitar with wonked-out synthesizers over lyrics about nipple tassels, sounding like five song ideas crammed into one. Like Zappa himself, it’s a delicate balance that occasionally falls off the edge of insanity – but succeeds far more often than it should. Continue reading »

Jul 312018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs july 2018

The Aztext ft. Xenia Dunford – Everyday Sun


Last month I wrote about Xenia Dunford’s dual comeback EPs. They split along genre lines: the first singer-songwriter Americana, the second a little jazzier. Now she’s dabbling in a third genre: hip-hop. On rap duo The Aztext’s new single “Everyday Sun,” Dunford proves herself a perfect hook singer. The blend producer Rico James creates with her voice and an infectious horn line sounds like a ’70s Stevie Wonder jam. Continue reading »

Jul 202018
 

ballroom sofa

“Maybe I don’t want to be famous,” goes the opening line of Ballroom Sofa’s song “Famous.” That’s an understatement!

I first stumbled upon Ballroom Sofa’s Bandcamp page in March. The four songs posted there immediately hooked me. They blended Britpop and dream-pop, earworm hooks with clever lyrics. This didn’t sound like some DIY bedroom demo either; the production was immaculate. This band had it all – everything except an identity. Continue reading »

Jul 162018
 

Julia Caesar

For the past year, the most talked-about new band in Vermont has been Julia Caesar. They built their reputation solely on fiery local shows, without a single song out there for the wider world to hear. (When I finally dug up a live video to post in May, I couldn’t even uncover the song titles.) In January, the music editor of alt-weekly Seven Days named his top hope for 2018 as getting any proper recording from the band.

Well, would that all of our new-year’s goals were wrapped up by mid-July! Julia Caesar drops their long-awaited debut EP today. Hopefully it will begin transmitting the deafening noise surrounding them in Vermont to a national audience. Continue reading »

Jul 022018
 

See previous monthly Best-Of lists here.

best songs june

The Big Sip – Two Hips / One Night


When an album features the credit “Tenor Sax (Track 5),” you know I’m starting with Track 5. And the sax doesn’t disappoint when it finally arrives on this arty-jam-funk journey, but there is so much going on beforehand you forget it’s coming. Crazy keyboard sound effects, off-kilter Phish rhythms, and some insistent melodies that push through the chaos. It’s off the band’s debut EP Sip Responsibly. Continue reading »

Jun 182018
 

the smittens cats for cats

“You can’t write a good song about cats,” Max Andrucki says. “It’s not possible.”

This might be a surprise to hear after you first listen to his indiepop band the Smittens’ new single “Cats for Cats.” Because it is a good song. But it’s not really about cats.

Andrucki actually built the song around a similar-sounding phrase: “Masc for Masc,” a controversial dating term in the gay/queer community (Medium has an explainer). “That phrase is everywhere in the gay dating app world and in fact it’s almost cliche to talk about it critically,” Andrucki says. “I agonized over the lyrics in a way I rarely do, because I didn’t want to make it seem as if the song was about critiquing gay body image or gender presentation culture or anything like that. It’s not anything with a ‘social message’ as explicit as that. But the phrase stuck, so I felt like I had to rhyme it with other silly things to make it clear that I wasn’t really serious about it as a social critique.” Continue reading »

Jun 042018
 

xenia dunford

The pictures say it all. Xenia Dunford’s press photos for her last album featured all manner of her posing with a jaunty fedora, leaning on brick walls, sitting on train tracks. Five years later, she’s done joking around. In her new press photo, she stares straight into the lens, unsmiling in black and white.

It’s a more serious, mature look befitting a more serious, mature sound. A lot has changed in the five years since one of Vermont’s most promising young songwriters disappeared just as her career was getting going. The ensuing period, she writes, was “marked by depression, self loathing and the destruction of people and ideas I held very dear yet were completely out of my control.” Continue reading »